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At This Hour

Famed DJ Stephen tWitch Boss Dead At 40; Club Q Shooting Survivors Testify On Surge In Anti-LGBTQ+ Violence; Remembering The Victims Of Sandy Hook Massacre. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired December 14, 2022 - 11:30   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. And really no other virus in recent history has become so politicized as COVID-19. I mean, you found yourself, we've talked about this many times at the center of some of that angry debate. Elon Musk just came at you and attacked you. But the latest now, Dr. Fauci, is Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. He's now asking the Florida Supreme Court to greenlight an investigation into, in the way he put it is any and all wrongdoing in Florida with respect to COVID-19 vaccines. What's your reaction to that?

FAUCI: I don't have a clue, Kate, what he's asking for. I mean, we have a vaccine that unequivocally is highly effective and safe, and has saved literally millions of lives. The Commonwealth Fund has come out with a report just this past week that vaccinations that have been administered over this period of time, this last year and a half to two years, have saved 3.2 million lives, 18 million hospitalizations, and approximately $1 trillion in costs.

So, what's the problem with vaccines? I mean, vaccines are life- saving. So quite frankly, Kate, I'm not sure what they're trying to do down there.

BOLDUAN: It kind of gets at a bigger issue I've been wanting to ask you as in one of our final interviews in your role in public health is just the reset -- one result of the pandemic has sadly been that science has become a divisive topic, politicized, and weaponized by some people. Have you thought about -- how do you pull that back? How do you turn that around?

FAUCI: You know, Kate, if I had an easy answer, I give it to you but it's a very difficult situation. You're absolutely correct. It has been politicized and it has been politicized in a way that has actually caused lives.

Because if people don't get vaccinated, which unequivocally is life- saving because of political ideology or because of misinformation and disinformation, that causes lives. And we've just got to get the American public regardless of whether you lean left you lean right, it doesn't matter at all, we're all in this together, we're all human beings, and we're all susceptible to disease that can kill us. So, if ever there was a time in society when we need to pull together and recognize that the common enemy is the virus, not each other, we've got to get people to appreciate that.

You know, like I said, I don't have an easy answer to how we're going to do that. But when people's lives are being lost about this, maybe that'll shake people up enough to realize that we've got to start pulling together and not against each other.

BOLDUAN: I'm sure you and -- have started kind of reflecting. I know, you wrote a very interesting long piece, kind of in a farewell piece of the New York Times, a message to the next generation of scientists. But it has been a wild ride at the tail end of your very long career in public health. I mean, as you head off, would you say you're more optimistic or pessimistic when it comes to public health and the role that it will continue to play in our lives?

FAUCI: Well, I am, and generally, Kate, a cautious optimist about things. And I -- here's another example, is I really am cautiously optimistic because I believe that the better angels in society will prevail. We're a good people in this country.

And although there's divisiveness, I believe we're going to pull out of this because if you look at what science has done and what science applied to public health has done, it has saved millions of lives in our country and throughout the world. So, I do hope we pull together and realize, as you say, although it's been a rocky road over the last three years. We know what happens when you all pull together. Lives get saved. And that's what we're all about.

BOLDUAN: And that is the necessary collaborative work between science and public health. It's great to have you. Thank you, Dr. Fauci.

FAUCI: Thank you for having me, Kate. Good to be with you.

BOLDUAN: So, the House is holding a hearing right now on the increase in violence against the LGBTQ+ community. Survivors of the Club Q mass shooting, they just testified and one of them joins us live next.



BOLDUAN: We have some sad news just in to CNN to report -- the famed DJ tWitch has died. His wife confirmed his passing in a statement, but the cause of death has not yet been released. Stephen "tWitch" Boss was best known for being the charismatic DJ on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Watch this.



ELLEN DEGENERES, HOST: Keep it on while you dance, all right?



BOSS: I got muscles like superman trainer --



BOLDUAN: And tWitch rose to fame in 2008 on the show So You Think You Can Dance and then began DJing for Elon in 2014, later added as an executive producer of the show until that show ended production this year. In a statement, his wife, Allison, says this in part.

Stephen was the backbone of our family, the best husband, and father, and an inspiration to his fans. To say he left a legacy would be an understatement. And his positive impact will continue to be felt. I will always save the last dance for you.

That's just heartbreaking. DJ tWitch was just 40 years old.

I do want to turn now to something else, some emotional testimony that we -- that we witnessed and watched this morning on Capitol Hill. This coming from survivors of the Club Q mass shooting in Colorado Springs, they spoke to lawmakers in Washington about their experiences and also the rise of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and violence.

Melanie Zanona is live on Capitol Hill. She's been watching this all morning for us. Melanie, what's been happening in this hearing?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Yes. This has been an emotional hearing. And the last one, I should point, out from the House Oversight Committee before Republicans take over. Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney has been a longtime advocate for LGBTQ rights, and so this is an issue near and dear to her heart.

The goal of the hearing was to explore how anti-LGBTQ policies have fueled a rise in violence against the community, as well as the rise in extremist rhetoric we've seen online. We heard from experts who testified to that who talked about ways to reduce hate crimes with Republicans pushing back on the idea that their policies were in any way responsible for some of these horrific shootings and instead blaming the overall rise in crime.

But aside from the policy debate, we heard about the real-life impacts. We heard from some of the survivors from that Club Q shooting where a gunman walked into a club that was a safe haven for the gay community and opened fire killing five people and injuring many others. One of those survivors, Michael Anderson, a bartender, talked about his horrific experience that night, and also advocated for a ban on assault weapons. Take a listen.


MICHAEL ANDERSON, CLUB Q BARTENDER AND MASS SHOOTING SURVIVOR: I saw my friend lying on the floor, bleeding out, knowing there was little to no chance of surviving that bullet wound. I had to tell him goodbye while I continue to fear for my life. As leaders of our country, it is your obligation to represent all of us, not just the ones you happen to agree with. Hate speech turns into hate action, and actions based on hate almost took my life from me at 25 years old.


ZANONA: Now, we should also point out, it is the 10-year anniversary today of the shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary. Congress has only taken incremental steps though to reduce gun violence and to protect the LGBTQ community. And, Kate, it's only going to be harder in a divided Congress next year.

BOLDUAN: That's a good point. And a harsh reality. That's right. Melanie, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Joining me now is James Slaugh. He survived the Club Q attack and he also is another one who just testified in that House hearing. And also with us is Sarah Kate Ellis. She's the CEO and President of GLAAD. James, let me start with you. What was it like for you sitting and speaking to lawmakers today? What was your message to them?

JAMES SLAUGH, SURVIVOR OF CLUB Q MASS SHOOTING: My message was regarding -- first of all addressing hate rhetoric. We need to -- as Americans, as you know politicians, as media outlets, we need to stop the hate rhetoric. We need to be more cognizant of how we speak.

And my other message was to the community. We need to embrace love. We need to not be afraid. We need to be loud and proud.

BOLDUAN: And, James, how does it sit with you when -- well, as Melanie was laying out a kind of if you want to call it a policy dispute, though it is a very real life -- it is -- could not be more real life than what you live through when you have some more -- like Republican members on that committee blaming the violence and attacks on the LGBTQ club -- LGBTQ+ community on the overall rise in crime and violent crime we've seen across the country?

SLAUGH: I think that erases our identity and it erases just how targeted and marginalized and how dehumanized we have become. Just blaming an overall rise in violence is not the answer. That is -- that's not going to solve anything. I was disappointed to say the least.

BOLDUAN: You were disappointed?

SLAUGH: Extremely disappointed. Just hearing those words, being a victim of a mass shooting, taking a bullet in the arm, and then having two committee members walk out during our testaments -- our testimonials there, that was just disappointing.

BOLDUAN: You -- as you mentioned, you were shot, you're recovering from your wounds, your boyfriend was shot, your sister was shot multiple times, and you all are --

SLAUGH: And I am really scared.

BOLDUAN: You all are recovering still. For you, James, is it the physical wounds or the mental trauma that is the greater challenge to work through after what you've lived through and now, you're still processing?


SLAUGH: I think it might be a little bit of both. So, I mean obviously the wounds here, I'm going to have to go through physical therapy. But the mental trauma for me has kind of fueled a fire, a fire that we need to do better. We need to, you know, address this hate rhetoric, we need to be advocates, and we need change.

BOLDUAN: Sarah Kate, can you talk to me about what you see as the impact of rhetoric and fueling hateful violence against the LGBTQ community? I mean, this is a type of -- this type of hate is not new to the LGBTQ community, but do you see it as different now?

SARAH KATE ELLIS, CEO & PRESIDENT, GLAAD: I see it as much more amplified than it's ever been before. And I think just to put this on a rise of crime, takes away all of the attacks that have been coming at the LGBTQ community. Over 300 anti-LGBTQ bills proposed this past year, 150 attacks on drag events, and LGBTQ events this past year. And when you see what's happening with the political rhetoric that is then going on social media platforms, completely unchecked, it's turned into action, that boils over into our communities and ends up at the front door of places like Club Q.

So, it's really -- it does a complete disservice to blame this or point this just on a rise in crime. This is targeted against our entire community. We're being used as political footballs for right- wing media and right-wing politicians and extremists. And it's having a -- I mean, the Homeland Security two weeks ago, put us on a target list to look out for ourselves because we are being targeted.

BOLDUAN: James, you kind -- you were thrust into this. I mean, you have -- you -- now, you're talking about you must become an advocate, and your experience is fueling this. But what is it like for you? I mean, you said you're disappointed in what you heard from some of the members on the panel. Do you -- do you regret testifying before them because of it?

SLAUGH: Not at all. I am so glad that I could share my voice. I'm so glad for Chairwoman Maloney for allowing me to do so. That was -- that was an incredible experience. And I think I'm glad that we could all share our voices.

I'm glad that, you know, I'm not going to forget this ever. And I want other people to know what it's like. I want other people to understand our struggles.

BOLDUAN: At the very same time, James, it -- there is a moment also -- a bright spot for you in the community as well.


BOLDUAN: I mean, you were at the White House for the signing of the Respect for Marriage Act just yesterday. And I heard in an interview with CNN that you said that what that has shown to you is that love wins. And it's kind of this juxtaposition mashed into one of what you're talking about today and also than what you saw yesterday. This law doesn't do everything, but what does this law mean for you?

SLAUGH: This law means that you -- this is one step closer to equal rights. This is one step closer for me being able to marry the person I love and not have to be targeted by politicians. And it's going to I think, help with that hate rhetoric. I think it's going to start to taper off that hate rhetoric. That's where we're going with this.

BOLDUAN: James, thank you for coming and taking the time to speak with me. Sarah Kate, thanks. I really appreciate your time.

SLAUGH: Thank you so much.

ELLIS: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Thank you. So, today, it marks 10 years since 20 first- graders and six educators were murdered in the Sandy Hook massacre. Today, one of the young survivors of the massacre, now 17 years old, she reflects on that -- on this moment, and what she wants every adult to learn now. That's next.



BOLDUAN: 10 years ago today, 2o first-grade students and six educators were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. A decade later, the pictures of these sweet faces still land exactly how they should. They should wreck us all. The pain of that massacre has not gone away. The incredible loss for their families still unimaginable.

And as the years have gone by, it is clear that the need to protect children in schools from gun violence is greater than ever. It was just seven months ago that a man with a gun murdered 19 fourth graders and two adults at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. This morning, Cyrena Arokium, she reflected on what's been taken to her since -- taken from her since Sandy Hook. She's now 17 years old. She was a little second-grader when she survived the Sandy Hook attack. Listen to her.


CYRENA AROKIUM, SANDY HOOK SHOOTING SURVIVOR: It's definitely difficult, especially seeing all these other school shootings and (INAUDIBLE) fall day which hit close to home because it's so similar to Sandy Hook. It really affected me because I felt like I failed. And just to know that like something so similar happened again is very tiring.


BOLDUAN: She felt like she failed in all of this. Cyrena's first-grade teacher, Victoria Soto, she was among those killed that day at Sandy Hook. 10 years on, a permanent memorial adjacent to the school commemorates the lives lost and those changed forever by this horrific tragedy like Cyrena's.


Former President Obama, he recently reflected on what his biggest regret is from that.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Perhaps the most bitter disappointment of my time in office that the closest I came to being cynical was the utter failure of Congress to respond in the immediate aftermath of the Sandy Hook shootings.


BOLDUAN: It goes without saying but children deserve better from all of us. I mean, something more like a normal childhood than this. I mean, this daily reality that one of the places that should feel most safe, in their classroom, in their school, that it could easily be the place that they die. They really do deserve more from us all.

Thank you so much for being here with me. Before we go, I want to remind you of this. A CNN special report coming up, Alisyn Camerota speaking with the parents of the Sandy Hook victims, who turned their pain into power. "SANDY HOOK FOREVER REMEMBERED." It begins at 10:00 p.m. "INSIDE POLITICS" with John King starts after this break.